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ASU Basketball: Tough task ahead for Sun Devils in No. 13 Utah on the road

Can the Sun Devils overcome two more schools to make it four straight wins?

Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Tip-off: 8:30 p.m. MT

Television: Fox Sports 1

The rocky mountain road trip is known to be two of the toughest away games in the Pac-12. It takes time, which teams usually don't have, to adjust to higher altitudes and the fan bases of both Utah and Colorado can make both schools extremely tough places to play.

While the Sun Devils are 7-3 since starting conference play 4-0, it would go a long way in cementing the overall improvement of the maroon and gold with two victories on the road. The chances of an NCAA Tournament bid outside of winning the Pac-12 Tournament in Las Vegas are slim to none, but the Sun Devils have no doubt turned some heads as of late. Two victories on the road this weekend would go a long way toward solidifying their NIT resume.

ASU update 15-12 (7-7):

The Sun Devils are coming off a home sweep of the Los Angeles schools. The win over UCLA on James Harden night took a lot of grit and fight. The USC victory was sloppy, but ASU found a way to win while shooting just 32 percent from the field. Gerry Blakes had 12 points against the Trojans, but it was a three pointer by Jonathan Gilling with 44 seconds left that lifted ASU to victory. Utah was the team's final loss before their first conference victory against Colorado.

No. 13 Utah update 21-5 (11-3):

The Utes are also 7-3 since last playing the Sun Devils in Tempe Jan. 15. with losses to Arizona, UCLA and Oregon. While the Utes are still one of the top teams in the country this season, they don't seem nearly as invincible as the last time they played ASU. They're coming off a loss to Oregon which dropped them four spots in the AP Poll, so they're bound to find some motivation in that on Thursday night.

Keys to victory:

1. Close out well on shots

While this hasn't been an issue for ASU per se, it should be emphasized against Utah, which is No. 8 in the country shooting 49 percent from the field. Star guard Delon Wright shoots over 52 percent from the field and no one in the Utes starting five shoots under 40 percent. The Sun Devils will need to stay balanced, leave the floor second on contested shots and remember to have active hands to bring that shooting percentage down. ASU might utilize some more 2-3 zone as well to force shots from the outside if possible.

2. Delon Wright vs. Gerry Blakes

This is certainly a matchup to watch. Wright had 21 points against the Sun Devils in Tempe while Blakes only managed 10 points. It's clear Blakes takes a lot of pride in his defense, but against Wright it's not about stopping him, it's about limiting the damage. If Blakes can somehow keep him in check, it gives the Sun Devils a much better chance of coming away with the win.

3. Pick and roll

ASU kept it close against Utah early. The Sun Devils were only down 13-12 through the first nine minutes. Utah seemed content to sit back and not hedge on ball screens with Tra Holder dishing out assists. As they began to cheat up on screens and interrupt Holder, Utah began to pull away. ASU also had 12 turnovers, but almost won the battle on the boards against freshman 7-footer Jakob Poeltl. If ASU can again utilize the pick and roll early with Jacobsen or Goodman, but then hold on longer defensively with rebounds, they'll give themselves a good shot at winning. They certainly have improved on the glass as of late, out rebounding their last four opponents by a total of 164-114.

Prediction: ASU is tied for the third best record in the Pac-12 since Jan. 17 but Utah remains the second best team in the conference. Coming off a loss on the road and now in front of a home crowd in Salt Lake City, I just can't see ASU pulling out a victory. That being said, it will be a lot closer than the 76-59 defeat in January.

No. 13 Utah- 83  ASU-76